Micron- and nano-sized particles are extensively used in various biomedical applications. However, their performance is often drastically hampered by the nonspecific adsorption of biomolecules, a process called biofouling, which can cause false-positive and false-negative outcomes in diagnostic tests. Although antifouling coatings have been extensively studied on flat surfaces, their use on micro- and nanoparticles remains largely unexplored, despite the widespread experimental (specifically, clinical) uncertainties that arise because of biofouling. Here, we describe the preparation of magnetic micron-sized beads coated with zwitterionic sulfobetaine polymer brushes that display strong antifouling characteristics. These coated beads can then be equipped with recognition elements of choice, to enable the specific binding of target molecules. First, we present a proof of principle with biotin-functionalized beads that are able to specifically bind fluorescently labeled streptavidin from a complex mixture of serum proteins. Moreover, we show the versatility of the method by demonstrating that it is also possible to functionalize the beads with mannose moieties to specifically bind the carbohydrate-binding protein concanavalin A. Flow cytometry was used to show that thus-modified beads only bind specifically targeted proteins, with minimal/near-zero nonspecific protein adsorption from other proteins that are present. These antifouling zwitterionic polymer-coated beads, therefore, provide a significant advancement for the many bead-based diagnostic and other biosensing applications that require stringent antifouling conditions.
- flow cytometry
- zwitterionic polymer